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Ex-Avon worker’s revenge attempt brings $5k fine

AVON - Revenge was not sweet for former assistant assessor Marjorie Malone, who last week was fined $5,000 for changing town records to raise the property taxes of selectmen who wanted to fire her.

“Public employees cannot use their official positions to retaliate against someone else for their own personal satisfaction,’’ said Karen L. Nober, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, which issued the fine.

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Malone had been working in the Avon assessor’s office for about a year, when she was informed, on Aug. 4, 2010, that she faced disciplinary action about a $360 personal expense report she had submitted. That afternoon, Malone went into the town books and increased the assessments of two properties, each owned by a selectman, according to the Ethics Commission press release.

The effect of the changes was to increase the annual property tax bills - by $1,452 on one property and $835 on the other.

Town officials fired Malone later that day, for the personal expense report, and didn’t discover and correct the juggled property assessments until four months later, the Ethics Commission said.

Neither Malone nor her attorney could be reached for comment, although she signed off on the agreement with the state Ethics Commission and paid her fine, a spokesman said.

The Avon situation is unusual, but not unique, according to Bob Ellia, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Assessing Officers.

“Unfortunately, yes, I have heard of it happening before,’’ he said. “It’s not very often, but there have been instances where a position has been abused. It’s very difficult to safeguard against individual actions like that. Assessors throughout the state are overseen by the state Department of Revenue, but [it doesn’t] investigate every account or every single parcel.’’

Ellia said assessors are bound by a professional code of ethics, as well as state rules about conflict of interest. He said his association wouldn’t take any action against Malone because she no longer works as an assessor in Massachusetts.

“There will always be a necessary degree of trust that needs to be placed in individuals in such positions to exercise their authority properly,’’ said Avon Town Administrator Michael McCue. “Ninety-nine percent of the time this is the case; unfortunately, this was the other 1 percent.’’

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.
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